Parents voice concerns

Residents frustrated by lack of change in curriculum

(Olivia Wycklendt) Dr. Lexmond listens intently as residents state their opinions. However, parents believe their voices are not being heard.
(Olivia Wycklendt) Dr. Lexmond listens intently as residents state their opinions. However, parents believe their voices are not being heard.

A group of parents has raised concerns about the decisions made by Dr. Marty Lexmond, superintendent, and Dr. Tabia Nicholas, director of curriculum. The parental group has petitioned the school board not to renew the contracts of Lexmond and Nicholas, and at a school board meeting on February 10, members of the group shared their concerns.

Until this point, parents say they had been denied an opportunity to share their qualms.

¨I started attending the board meetings thinking that I’d be able to hear the issues,” said Susan Vala, resident. ¨Unfortunately, [the board] had not addressed those concerns; it’s not discussed at the board meetings.”

On February 10, however, Lexmond said he was open to hearing the parental viewpoint.

¨These are also really important learning opportunities,” Lexmond said. ¨Clarifying concerns and laying out a plan … is really what helps us move forward, and I’m looking forward to that.”

The first concern addressed by parents was that the math curriculum is not being prioritized. Parents are frustrated that unlike other districts, Shorewood’s math curriculum ends at AP calculus AB and does not include AP calculus BC. Because of this, more and more students are taking classes at UWM through the Youth Options program, which presents not only scheduling conflicts for individual students, but also an enormous cost for the district.

¨You’re going to get this kind of situation,” said David Cobb, board member, who stressed the problems of having many high-achieving students in a small district.

Additionally, Dr. Henry Kranendonk, an outside consultant hired to examine Shorewood’s math and science program, said the math curriculum is not necessarily struggling, but needs improvements.

“The bottom line is that the state of the district in mathematics is good, but you are at a time, like most districts, in need of a healthy discussion among yourselves whether to continue with this curriculum or not,” Kranendonk said.

(Olivia Wycklendt) The school board confers, discussing the recent points of contention that have arisen in the district, including concerns voiced by parents about the science curriculum.
(Olivia Wycklendt) The school board confers, discussing the recent points of contention that have arisen in the district, including concerns voiced by parents about the science curriculum.

Next, parents addressed the science curriculum, with many criticisms focused on the middle school department.

“The science program at the middle school is falling short,” said Steven Wood, resident. “This is a perfect example of the district’s inability to recognize and prioritize the needs of the community.”

Other residents were more supportive of the math and science programs.

“My kids have had a positive experience,” said Jen Essak, resident. “I don’t think we should be so completely critical without looking at the possibilities.”

Wood also expressed concerns about the apparent non-implementation of the new science curriculum in the high school. This new curriculum would replace integrated science and biology with a biology and honors biology system, which would also apply to chemistry and physics.

“The district failed to honor their own timeline and their commitment to parents and students and teachers,” Wood said.

Nicholas said that there had been action taken to improve student interest in the sciences, such as sending certain teachers to extra training, and meeting with teachers.

“There was a direct response to what the concerns were,” Nicholas said.

Parents were also frustrated that 7th graders were administered the 8th grade science final exam to gauge if any 7th graders could skip 8th grade science and move into a high school level curriculum. None of the 7th graders passed the test, and parents say this was a poor decision by the administration.

“This is an example of random, experimental choices that negatively impact our kids,” said Judith Wood, resident. “This does not appear to be in the best interest of any child, but this was a knee-jerk response to feedback that the current science curriculum was weak.”

In response, Nicholas affirmed that the test would not be administered again.

With regard to concerns about the stagnant curriculum, Nicholas said that parents have been fed misinformation.

“I’m aware of the situation, but the details are not accurate,” Nicholas said. According to Nicholas, the decision to implement the biology/honors biology curriculum will be made on March 17, so that option is still open.

Next, concerns were voiced about the STEAM initiative that Shorewood has adopted and will soon implement. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, and is meant to prepare students for work in engineering.

Parents disapprove of STEAM because of its deviation from the traditional program, STEM. According to Sangeeta Patel, resident, the Arts component was added at the urging of the for-profit “Do-It-Yourself” company Maker Media, and detracts from STEM’s focus on pure math and engineering. According to Patel, this change puts Shorewood students at a disadvantage when it comes to college and careers.

“We are so far behind the vast majority of the school districts in the country regarding STEM,” Patel said. “By rejecting commonly accepted terminology, we risk devaluing our students’ educational experiences and applications for college.”

Cobb, however, does not agree with Patel’s assessment.

“There’s been a lot written about STEAM versus STEM,” Cobb said. “My understanding is that it is not an avant-garde, way off the tracks thing.”

According to Cobb, many schools do value STEAM education, including Rhode Island School of Design, one of the top design schools in the country.

Lexmond said he stands by his decision to support STEAM.

“Given the arts focus, I think the opportunity to build an engineering program really exists with STEAM,” Lexmond said. “There is a bit of a philosophical difference, but I think it’s the right fit for this place.”

Gina Szablewski, resident, has been working with the STEAM initiative and is optimistic about the program.

“I feel really hopeful about [STEAM],” Szablewski said.

Parents additionally expressed concerns about the MAPS testing Shorewood has implemented. With so many standardized tests being administered, said Nancy Peske Darrow, resident, we risk confining students to numbers and statistics. Additionally, students who do not test well or, as MAP tests are done on a computer, have poor keyboarding skills, are at a disadvantage.

“We do a lot of standardized testing,” Darrow said. “This is one of those tests, not required by the state, that we need to seriously look at as to what value it is giving us.”

“We are now officially a district that teaches to the test,” said Mary Gorman, resident.

Finally, parents voiced their concerns over the Response to Intervention program, or RtI. Under RtI, students are given time without direct instruction where teachers can help struggling students in a one-on-one setting. However, parents are concerned that this program takes instructional time away from the majority of students who are performing well.

“Since we have taken minutes away from math and language arts instruction, RtI must work for all students,” said Monica Morrissey, resident. “We would like the administration to take a deeper look into RtI.”

In response to concerns about MAP testing and RtI, Lexmond decided to defer responding to these concerns until an open forum is held.

Some parents felt satisfied after voicing their concerns, but others were still frustrated because it was discovered that the board had already renewed Lexmond’s and Nicholas’s contracts before the meeting on February 1.

“To say that I’m incensed is an understatement,” said Nathaniel Cade, resident. “At no point did [the board] give any insight to the community. Yes, it is a personnel decision whether to renew or not to renew, but it is a community decision you should be sharing … that, to me, is shameful.”

Other residents, however, think that there should be some satisfaction with what Shorewood already has.

“People in Shorewood are in a privileged setting but at some point we need to step back and see the big picture and see what the real goals are  … [the goal is] developing a whole person that includes taking everyone’s needs in mind,” Szablewski said.

by Dylan Larson-Harsch and Nathalie Bolduc

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